Every Fourth of July in my childhood had a similar pattern. From daylight till dusk I engaged in destruction with firecrackers, blowing up empty cans (way out back by the barn so my mother would not realize that shrapnel was involved), and closer to the house creating tableux with toy soldiers and cars that I subjected to a barrage of Black Cats. The barn cats made themselves scarce that day.

Even when I became old enough to work in the hayfield, the evenings remained the same as in childhood. We stopped work in the early afternoon, cleaned up, and began setting up the grill. My mother made the ice cream and Dad and I went outside to crank it.

About this time our neighbors from the farm south of us would come over: Doris and Fred Robinson. Fred would sit outside with us while we turned the ice cream maker; Doris would go inside with Mom. Supper was grilled burgers and ice cream. Finally it would be dark enough to set off fireworks. Our house was on a ridge so we also could see the neighbors' Roman Candles and rockets.

Fred was a jolly man, given to self-deprecating humor. He had been born in Illinois, then come to northern Missouri to work on a relative's farm as a hired man. He spent his youth during the Depression as a hand on several farms. One story he told several times was of a farmer he worked for who would give him one .22 shell every Saturday afternoon and tell him to go get something for supper, usually squirrel. Nothing was wasted in those hard days. When WW2 came he served in the Army in Europe, then came home, married his sweatheart, joined the local Primitive Baptist church eventually becoming a deacon, and farmed as long as his health permitted before he and Doris sold the place and moved into town.

He told a few war stories, mostly in his self-deprecating style. One I recall was set in the Battle of the Bulge. He told how he and his unit went without sleep for over 72 hours. He would finish the story by saying "You wouldn't think a person could stay awake that long, but if you're scared enough you can." His unit also liberated a concentration camp. He told how the GI's gave the liberated prisoners their rations, which the survivors usually threw up. He would close the story with "I never thought human beings could be so thin and live."

Fred is gone now, as so many of that generation are. He was quiet, probably easy to overlook unless you knew him. All the time I remember him he looked like what he was in his overalls--a Missouri farmer. But, as a young man, he helped defeat tyranny and free a continent. He was so self-deprecating in his war stories that I did not learn until I read his obituary that he had received 3 Bronze Stars.

He was an American, an ordinary man who did extraordinary things when duty called.